Trump faces criminal trial, first for an ex-US president, in hush money case

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 5:05 AM

By Luc Cohen and Tim Reid

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump next week is set to become the first former U.S. president to face a criminal trial – a case involving hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels that carries major political and legal ramifications as he runs to regain the White House.

The trial is scheduled to start in Manhattan on April 15. It is the first of four potential criminal trials Trump faces, but may be the only one to take place before the Nov. 5 U.S. election in which he is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in a 2020 rematch.

Trump, 77, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of business records in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Trump is accused of arranging a $130,000 payment made by his lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign to buy her silence about a sexual encounter she has said she had with him at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006 and then falsifying records to cover it up.

Denying any such encounter with the porn star, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, Trump has said the payment was made to stop her “false and extortionist accusations.”

Trump also faces federal charges in Washington and state charges in Georgia over his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden, as well as federal charges in Florida of illegally retaining classified documents after leaving office in 2021. Trump has pleaded not guilty in each and has called them politically motivated.

The hush money case allegations are not new – news of the Daniels payoff generated headlines in 2018 – and the facts may come across as more tawdry and less consequential than Trump’s other three indictments. The U.S. Justice Department previously investigated the matter and Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance law violations, testifying that Trump orchestrated the payment to Daniels. Federal prosecutors opted not to charge Trump, ending their investigation in 2019.

Bragg has argued that the case is about Trump’s effort to corrupt the 2016 election – the businessman-turned-politician defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton – through a “catch-and-kill” scheme to purchase the silence of people with potentially damaging information about him.

According to prosecutors, Cohen also arranged a payment to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who has said that she too had a sexual relationship with Trump – a relationship Trump has denied.

In New York, falsifying business records to commit or conceal another crime is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

The other three criminal cases lack firm trial dates. If he regains the presidency, Trump could stop the two federal prosecutions if trials have not yet occurred.


Donations to Trump’s campaign surged following Bragg’s April 2023 indictment. His opinion polling lead over rivals for the Republican presidential nomination widened, an advantage he never lost. Trump in March secured the delegates needed to ensure he becomes his party’s nominee.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump, declined to comment on the trial.

Some political strategists forecast that a possible criminal conviction could hurt Trump in his presidential campaign.

Mary Anna Mancuso, a Republican strategist who does not support Trump, said if he is convicted, it would be a “sobering reality” that many voters would find hard to ignore.

“They will be forced,” Mancuso said, “to ask themselves questions like: ‘How do I vote for a guy who might not be able to conduct the duties of a president, for example accepting a foreign dignitary? Or who might be under some form of incarceration or house curfew?'”

In a February Reuters/Ipsos poll, about a quarter of self-identified Republicans and about half of independents said they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted of a felony crime by a jury. That could be significant in a tight race.

The judge overseeing the case, Juan Merchan, has imposed a gag order restricting Trump’s public comments on trial participants and members of their families. Trump has disparaged Merchan’s daughter online. The judge also denied Trump’s bid to delay the trial until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews his claim of presidential immunity from prosecution in the federal election subversion case.


Kyle Kondik, a nonpartisan political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said he is not sure whether the hush money trial will damage Trump because so many people are accustomed to his breaking of norms.

“We don’t really have any sort of precedent for this. And we also have a long history of Trump being pretty resilient,” Kondik added.

A conviction, Kondik said, could have an impact in an election in which small margins likely will determine the winner.

Rebecca Roiphe, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney and current New York Law School professor, said Bragg’s team would likely emphasize the case’s ties to the 2016 election to counter the possible perception amongst jurors that the case is less significant than others.

“I don’t think it’s nothing that this case strikes people as small, that nobody would bother with if it was somebody other than Trump,” Roiphe added.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York and Tim Reid in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)